While the idea of internet censorship in America was soundly rejected by the entire global internet community minus a very powerful few, it appears as though defeat for the proposed SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bill last year has not been the death of the idea just yet, after a provision of that bill has reportedly been ‘revived’.
Initiated by the United State Department of Commerce, the proposal is suggesting that US Congress increase the penalties that they issue for streaming copyrighted work, reviving a provision from the failed Stop Online Piracy Act.
The report from the department (“Copyright Policy, Creativity and Innovation in the Digital Economy”) has made the proposal to Congress that a section of SOPA be reconsidered, enabling the justice system to ‘heavily penalize’ those that upload ‘select content’ to online streaming services without permission, implemented to the extent of potential ‘felony convictions’ for people ‘caught streaming’ any copyrighted content (such as music and video), with some of the more extreme reactions to the news suggesting that this means uploading ‘homemade covers’ of content to the internet would also be illegal.
Current legislation leaves the more severe of the above offences classed as a ‘misdemeanor’ that is not enforced to the point of arrest (except in extreme cases of a website dedicated to such practices such as the Megavideo site), and any proposed changes to the fairly balanced status quo will be met with outrage by all SOPA opponents (which through their actions last year include Google and Wikipedia), especially considering the ‘felony’ proposal would place any offences in the same bracket as heinous crimes such as murder, rape, arson, and treason.
A report from the task force, however, claim that their effort in this department: “…repeats the administration’s prior call for Congress to enact legislation adopting the same range of penalties for criminal streaming of copyrighted works to the public as now exists for criminal reproduction and distribution.”
That suggestion was recognized by several sources as last being seen as ‘Section 201′ in the SOPA bill, with the re-suggestion triggering fears that it could be revived if the task force are listened to. The report from the Department of Commerce notes:
“In recent years a number of licensed online video streaming services have launched, and many cable television providers offer extensive on-demand catalogs to their subscribers. Other services have launched without licenses, using technology developed to transmit individual streams from individually-made copies, rather than broadcasting to the public from a single source copy. These services, which rely on recent case law in the context of a cable operator with underlying content licenses, pose a challenge to the traditional dividing lines between public and private performance, and raise a host of questions. If any consumer can stream the content she wants on-demand, is this act ‘public’ as defined by the Copyright Act if the technology is structured so that the stream comes from a copy made by a third party for each individual? Does it make a difference if the consumer already has legal access in another form to the content being streamed? Does it matter how the source copies are made, and by whom? Such interpretive tensions in the face of changing delivery models are the inevitable result of a system based on a bundle of specific rights, each drafted in the context of then-existing technologies.
“The lack of potential felony penalties for criminal acts of streaming disincentivizes prosecution and undermines deterrence. The administration and the Copyright Office have both called on Congress to amend the Copyright Act to ensure that illegal streaming to the public can be punished as a felony in the same manner as other types of criminal infringement. The Task Force now repeats that call. While the willfully infringing reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works can be punished as a felony, willful violations of the public performance right are punishable only as misdemeanors. This discrepancy is an increasingly significant impediment to the effective deterrence and criminal prosecution of unauthorized streaming. Since the most recent updates to the criminal copyright provisions, streaming (both audio and video) has become a significant if not dominant means for consumers to enjoy content online. The Administration and the Copyright Office have both called on Congress to amend the Copyright Act to ensure that illegal streaming to the public can be punished as a felony in the same manner as other types of criminal infringement.”
While there are natural requests from content owners made in order to protect their content, the idea that anyone watching or viewing such content (in the latter case, sometimes unknowingly) will be treated as a high-value criminal, while it would be unclear how the USA would be able to enforce the bill for their content around the world without convincing other territories to join them in a “no ‘piracy’ tolerated” stance.
If the reform proposal does come to pass, the natural order of business would suggest that those campaigning to have their content protected from piracy would increase their digital prices rather than lower them in the absence of third-party streaming, because the consumers would be left with choices of ‘paying those prices or going to jail’. However, that hypothetical scenario would also in turn enhance the people’s incentive to pirate (presumably from foreign domains hosting the content), and a vicious cycle would continue…